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Emmy-nominated The Mandalorian told two stories and nailed 'em both

The Emmys shortlist rewards sci-fi shows The Boys, WandaVision and The Mandalorian.

The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda.
The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda get ready for awards season.
Disney Plus

The Mandalorian was perfect comfort viewing for troubled times, offering a weekly hit of low-stress, bite-sized space-based badassery with a side order of Baby Yoda adorableness. This sci-fi action romp is a far cry from oh-so-serious prestige TV like The Crown, and yet the two shows are tied for the most Emmy 2021 awards nominations (24 each). But was The Crown telling two different stories for two sets of fans at the same time? No, it was not.

Season 1 and season 2 of The Mandalorian are available to stream now on Disney Plus. The Emmy-nominated second season saw the Mando searching for his own kind so he could return Baby Yoda to the Jedi. The Crown and Mare of Easttown are all wonderful, but it's also refreshing to see Emmy voters tip their golden hats to pure entertainment genre stories like Mandalorian, The Boys, WandaVision or Ted Lasso in a way the Golden Globes or Academy Awards daren't.

Only a couple of episodes into season 2 of the Mandalorian I realized how deftly the series walked a knife-edge between entertaining casual viewers and pleasing hardcore Star Wars nerds, leading up to a seismic final moment. 

I love Star Wars, but I'm a getting-excited-at-the-movies-every-couple-of-years kinda fan rather than a must-devour-more-spinoffs kinda fan. For example, let's look at the other Mandalorians who feature in the series. When their leader, the Heiress, turned up in episode 3 I had no idea who she was. I was intrigued to learn more about her in future instalments, and never for a moment felt like information about her was missing. The Mandalorian felt like something I could tune into every week without overthinking.

And yet, reading the handy episode 3 recap from my Star Wars-obsessed buddy Sean Keane, I learned the Heiress Bo-Katan Kryze was actually a major character from The Clone Wars. I had no idea! At no point did I feel like I'd missed something, or that the show had suddenly crossed over into unfamiliar storylines or arcane continuity. 

It was the same with dusty lawman Cobb Vanth in season 2 episode 1. I loved him because he was a cool character and I love Timothy Olyphant. Only afterward did I realize devoted fans would be even more excited to see Olyphant take on the role of a familiar character from previous Star Wars spinoffs. The Mandalorian's use of these characters works on both levels without excluding the casual viewer.

Because let's face it, as much as cinematic universes are rewarding for long-term fans, they can sometimes be hard work. I love Marvel too, but nothing makes me nope out of a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie faster than when I find myself going, wait, am I supposed to know who that guy is? When did that happen? If The Mandalorian ever felt like I had to do homework to understand what was going on, then it would have lost its comfort-viewing magic.

No wonder The Mandalorian was a hit, then. The show struck a deft balance between telling a rich and fun standalone story for casual viewers while on a whole other level weaving in Star Wars backstory for die-hard fans.

Speaking of Star Wars backstory, it could feel really Star Wars-y. Obviously Mando regularly got caught up in a mission-of-the-week very similar to previous installments, but as the season progressed we finally met some real Imperials -- proper oily pinch-faced officers and glossy-white Stormtroopers getting blasted in corridors. Old-school stuff!

After season 1's grubby frontier remnants, it was interesting to see the Empire continue to function, complete with stiff uniforms and frankly impressive devotion to the cause. If anything, these Imperials were played a little too much for laughs and the Mandalorians played a little too invincible, so it was great to see chief nasty Moff Gideon raise the stakes with some real villainy to show how dark the Dark Side can be.

And finally, I loved the twist to the lore of the Mandalore. There's a tragic pathos to the story of a man who can never reveal his face and believes his own home is cursed -- only to find out his beliefs may not be as inviolate as he thought. It's frankly astonishing I got so invested in the emotions playing out under a blank metal helmet. See? If you were wondering how a low-stress comfort-viewing half-hour shoot-'em-up could score so much respect from the Emmys, that's why: The Mandalorian really does work on a lot of levels.

Check out our recaps for all The Mandalorian's Easter eggs and important Star Wars continuity references:

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